Presented by K A Wilde and H Rautjoki, Lands and Survey and New Zealand Forest Service


There is little awareness of karst landforms or of caves generally among the New Zealand public, experience being generally limited to the few caves developed for tourism, or readily accessible to specific interest groups such as schools, scouts, and outdoor pursuits centres. An even smaller number of people, most of them serious recreational cavers, have explored lesser known caves. These people also seek to locate new caves and to find out more about those already discovered.

Not enough is known about cave or karst areas by either the scientific community or by those responsible for the management of the land around them. An unfortunate consequence of this lack of knowledge is that many caves and karst landforms are threatened by unsympathetic management of the areas containing them and by damage caused by thoughtless visitors. For example: uncontrolled development within a karst catchment can cause irreversible damage to cave environments due to increased siltation and detritus build-up or through pollution of cave aquifers.

This lack of understanding of the fragile nature of cave systems and their associated features must be remedied if their scientific and recreation values are to be maintained. These can include spectacular and diverse speleothems, rare minerals, fossil or subfossil remains of extinct species or the habitats of specialised cave fauna, and entrance and twilight flora.

While the NZ Forest Service, and Department of Lands and Survey, as agencies responsible for management are reluctant to restrict access, they realise that any human traffic in caves will cause some modification to their natural features and that this can range from imperceptible changes to serious damage.

The principal task of management agencies responsible for karst landscapes and other areas where caves occur will be to monitor damage or modification and determine the level or rate that can be regarded as acceptable, and to manage the land in such a way that the greatest possible protection is accorded. The least possible restriction of access by interested members of the public should be imposed.


This statement has been prepared as a joint policy of the two agencies, with the endorsement of the National Parks and Reserves Authority and the Land Settlement Board. It will apply to areas managed under the Forests Act 1949, the Reserves Act 1977, the National Parks Act 1980 and the Land Act 1948. Other land administering bodies or agencies with responsibilities for administering caves or karst areas will be encouraged to adopt this or similar policy to ensure the protection of important cave and karst features.


(a) To promote the maintenance of the natural ecology and scenery of cavernous or karst areas.

(b) To engender an awareness of the scientific, scenic and recreation significance of karst and cave resources through the interpretation of cave and karst features to the general public at locations appropriate for this purpose.

(c) To ensure that land owners and administering bodies are aware of the consequences of actions they may take which could threaten karst areas or caves that are important for scientific, scenic or recreation purposes.

(d) To allow for the formulation of detailed management policies and guidelines for areas containing caves that will embrace the natural and scientific values of these features, and which will provide for a suitable level of use or development.


(a) A cave and karst access classification system will be applied to these features, as one element of the process of management of areas to which this policy applies.

The system contains three classifications based on levels of use which are defined in the Appendix. These levels of use will be determined for karst areas and caves following a consideration of their characteristics and features relative to regional and national protection priorities and the risk of unacceptable damage to the features being considered.

In order to classify the resource appropriately, use will be made of the inventory of geological and geomorphological features of national and regional importance being compiled by the New Zealand Geological Society. Where possible, the compilation of this inventory will be assisted. The New Zealand Speleological Society and any local caving clubs or groups will be consulted about application of the classification system. The access classification of features in an area containing caves or karst will be recorded in the management plan for that area at the earliest opportunity.

In all situations where a limitation of access, or control on use is considered necessary for a particular karst area, cave or passage the minimum level of restriction will be applied to achieve the necessary protection.

(b) Consideration will be given to support for research proposals involving caves, karst or related topics. While those projects which have a direct relevance to land management activities will be given a higher priority for support consideration will also be given to supporting other research projects.

(c) Until now, lack of knowledge about the features and locations of caves has been one of their most effective means of protection from damage. In presenting information about cave features, in management plans for example, discretion is to be exercised, particularly when the locations of such features are not readily known.

(d) Where changes in use for land administered by the Department of Lands and Survey or the New Zealand Forest Service are contemplated, and where such changes may threaten the hydrological integrity of caves or cave systems the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Procedures (1981) will be applied. The integrity of caves and cave systems should be affected only for the sake of values greater than those which may be lost.

In many situations, caves or cave systems contained within an area administered by the Lands and Survey or Forest Service may have portions of their water catchments outside the administered area, in private land or in land managed by other government bodies. A similar approach to management will be recommended to other land administration agencies and private owners of land containing or affecting cave and karst features.


(a) It is acknowledged that a classification system allowing for control of access does not constitute a comprehensive management regime for karst and cave features. The classification scheme is intended to serve the single management function of allowing for the regulation of access to these resources, and will apply where such regulation is considered vital to the continuing integrity of scientifically or scenically important values.

Detailed management policies for caves and karst areas should be formulated in response to the particular values and circumstances of the resources being considered. During management planning for an area containing caves or karst features, recognition will need to be given to the local, regional and national importance of these features, not only in the determination of access classification, but also for other management strategies.

(b) Much remains to be discovered about caves and karst resources. The agencies involved in funding research on such features are primarily interested in the applicability of research findings to management. A responsibility for pure science, or generation of knowledge for its own sake is acknowledged however, and detailed consideration will be given to all relevant research proposals.

(c) It is not intended to obstruct people's access to information concerning cave and karst features. What is of concern, however, is that the careless publication of information about the location of caves may lead to the inexperienced and perhaps unsympathetic public visiting caves and causing damage to their features either accidentally or deliberately.

For this reason, and in the interests of public safety, care will be exercised over the publication of the locations of caves. Casual enquiries for information of this nature from non-caving members of the public should be referred to local caving clubs or groups, as the best agencies for introducing the novice to this recreation activity.

(d) Many caves and cave systems are still changing, either by the solution processes that started them sometimes many thousands of years ago or by deposition of speleothems by percolating water. These caves are in a state of dynamic equilibrium with water-related factors being major components of this delicate balance. Any modifications to the cave's catchment area or watershed may have dramatic and irreversible effects on the state of the cave or cave system and the features contained within.

The Environmental Protection and Enhancement Procedures (1981) contain guidelines for the assessment and monitoring of the environmental impacts of developments. These procedures offer the best means to ensure that the scientific, scenic and recreation values of caves are considered when land use changes or developments are contemplated which may alter the hydrological systems of caves.


(a) Karst Areas
Landscape characterised by underground drainage thus often containing sinkholes, cave entrances and springs. Surface features may include conical hills, enclosed depressions, towers, sharp ridges, pinnacles, bluffs, rifts, gorges, cliffs and outcrops with distinctive sculpturing. Such landforms occur in areas of limestone and marble, but may also occur in other sedimentary rocks containing calcium or gypsum. Karst features also occasionally occur in volcanic rock sequences.

(b) Cavernous Area
Any area containing caves. These may be formed in limestone and marble, or other soluble rock types, but may also include basaltic lava flows (e.g. lava tubes).

(c) Speleothems
Stalactites, stalagmites and other secondary mineral deposits formed in caves.

(d) Fossil
Faunal and floral remains (bones, shells, plant material, etc) embedded in consolidated rocks (limestones, sandstones, mudstones etc) of relatively old geologic age.

(e) Sub-fossil
Faunal remains (bones, shells etc) embedded in unconsolidated sediments (gravel, sand, mud etc) of relatively recent geologic age.

(f) Twilight Flora
Plants which grow in subdued light conditions.


It is envisaged that cavernous/karst features in areas administered by the Crown will normally be zoned "open". However, where the habitats of rare or endangered species are associated with cavernous/karst areas, or where they form an ecologically sensitive environment, a "Restricted Access" or "Limited Access" classification may be applied.

Individual caves within open karst areas, for reasons of their scientific importance or to protect their features, may require control to be exercised over access. Similarly, a scientifically important passage may adjoin a cave of low scientific importance which has a less restrictive zoning.

Access to cavernous or karst areas, and caves or cave passages may be controlled under statutory provision, by bylaws or by the way in which they are managed.


Consent to enter areas classified as "Limited Access" or Restricted Access" should be sought from the nearest office of the Department responsible for the administration of the cave or karst area. Permits or other written means of consent may stipulate any requirements considered necessary for environmental protection: numbers in a party; status of members and leadership requirements (e.g. card holders of the New Zealand Speleological Society); specified routes; removal of boots in certain areas; method of disposal of carbide and other pollutants (e.g. waste, food etc); use of electric lighting for environmental reasons; and any other requirements as may be considered necessary for maintaining the environmental integrity of the cave or karst area. If warranted, in special circumstances, written consent will only be released personally to the leader of the party or an acceptable deputy


A D Cody, K A Wilde, T H Worthy "A Basis for New Zealand Cave and Karst Management", NZ Speleological Bulletin 7:124, 1983